Interview with Krists Auznieks
Continuing with this season’s eclectic array of new works, on November 18th Kaleidoscope will showcase four composers in collaboration with the LA Philharmonic’s “Noon to Midnight” concert series. As a series featuring LA’s top new-music ensembles, these new works promise to be as equally groundbreaking and transformative. Krists Auznieks, one of the four composers featured on this concert, will have his World Premiere of Snippets of Joy alongside Pamela Z’s And the Movement of the Tongue, Peter Shin’s Screaming Shapes, and Gabriella Smith’s Carrot Revolution. Generously donating his time, I was able to sit down with Mr. Auznieks to not only discuss his compositional influences for Snippets of Joy, but how his devotion to transcend beyond a sense of self in his compositions has allowed him to spiritually and philosophically connect to not only himself, but with communities around the world.
Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started in music?
Krists Auznieks: As a boy I was part of a Riga Dome Boys Choir, a touring boys choir in Latvia. My earliest memories with music involved loads of traveling and between three or four concerts a week, so I was very active in music when I was young.
CR: Oh interesting, how did an experience like that lead you to where you are today as a composer?
KA: Even though I’m not religious, for me music was and is always associated with an experience regarding something higher than ‘us’. Music has to always be about something other than oneself, such as community, and as I look back on it more and more, that’s what I took away from that early childhood experience. I later ventured in jazz piano, playing in my own band for eight years, then moved to Holland to receive my bachelor’s degree from The Royal Conservatory of The Hague and dabbled in electronic music with tapes and such. This is really where I learned how to compose, and while there I began studying composers like Stockhausen and composing with algorithms which was exciting having come from a background in more traditional music. Finally, four years ago I was led to Yale to pursue my masters, and am now completing my doctorate.
CR: It seems like your experiences are all steeped amongst lots of different genres and places. I love what you said about music, that it transcends the self in a sense. Can you elaborate more on that concept?
KA: In general, it’s difficult to talk about music without all kinds of connotations influencing how we see its function. For example, it’s difficult to talk about music without evoking religious connotations. Music’s history is steeped in religion, and our ideas about it are often remnants from religious experiences at times channeled/sublimated through Romanticism. In general I just think that there is a higher and more powerful force always at play. For myself, I can’t find any motivation to compose if I can’t find a “beyond” value, because then it’s just about musical relationships and sound--that feels very selfish to me. I can’t sustain a life composing like that.
CR: Very interesting. I usually ask this later in the interview, but since we’re on the topic of community and inclusivity, Kaleidoscope’s mission revolves around being as inclusive as possible, both with the Los Angeles community and within itself by eliminating a conductor. Were you aware of this mission at the time you applied for our Call for Scores? In short, why did you apply?
KA: I must say that I knew very little, and had not heard of Kaleidoscope until suddenly I got numerous emails from friends and colleagues urging me to apply. When I did apply, I looked up what the orchestra was about and thought it was incredible. A conductorless orchestra is a rarity.
CR: Have you ever worked with a conductorless orchestra before?
KA: No, but having spent part of my life in the jazz world I’ve certainly worked in similar environments. Normally in a classical environment people are uncomfortable being given this much freedom, but I’m very excited about this opportunity. Because my music is mostly unmetered in it’s sonic surface I’m sure it’ll pose some problems, yet I remain an optimist!
CR: I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Regarding utilizing techniques, like structure and rhythm, etc., do you feel that you have a particular compositional style?
KA: Mostly I would describe my style is informed by the minimalist and post-minimalist tradition, but is neither. Every human has a unique association to generic terms that mean completely different things. I mean I say minimalism, but with that word someone could think of Reich, someone could think of Glass, or Feldman, and that could give you a completely different picture of what to expect from my work. If I had to pick one value of mine as a composer, I think beauty has become a characteristic I uphold and strive for. We could go deeper into philosophy and aesthetics and question the very nature of beauty, but we all have a common sense of what ‘beautiful’ means. I will always go for the beautiful rather than the functional or the practical.
CR: Do you utilize beauty in Snippets of Joy? How in your piece do you utilize some of these values we’ve been discussing?
KA: Interestingly enough, Snippets of Joy was the first piece of mine that was guided by spontaneity. My writing process is generally very strict, so this is where the topic of ‘style’ gets contradictory, but in Snippets of Joy I worked to find a form of joy that was very visceral to me at that time in my life. It was still a strict and rigorous process, but unlike in my other pieces where the discipline is guided by abiding by strict rules, here the strictness came from being extremely focused on a particular affect--joy. I thought, why don’t I let this emotion be the one thing that guides my compositional process, and it was very different from what I usually produce. Rarely have I let my emotional life guide my writing, but in this case, what came from that process was fresh.
CR: Speaking to you it seems that philosophy and poetry are of great value to your personal and professional life.
KA: Absolutely. Philosophy, poetry and literature are great influences for me, but I don’t ever like setting texts to my music. The texts I enjoy in life I just like to respond to rather than play with in music. This is because I feel that if I can’t increase the potentiality of the text, then I don’t want to touch it.
CR: Interesting point. Other than trying to understand joy and what that means to you, are there any philosophical or poetic themes that exist in Snippets of Joy?
KA: On some level I’m sure, but nothing intentional. A lot of my pieces deal with self acceptance and understanding, and though it’s not directly relevant, I had come out only nine months before writing this piece. This whole year has been within that vein where I’ve just been very engaged with being a human, exploring my emotions and jumping fully into them, and letting myself experience what it means to be fully vulnerable. Part of it is just growing up, maturing, and being in a very meaningful relationship--certainly all these personal things inform and are celebrated in Snippets of Joy. In its simplest form, this piece celebrates what it means to be human and to be alive. It celebrates wanting to be somebody, to want things in life. It’s not very brainy in that way. It just cherishes emotions.
CR: Being that it’s a very personal reflection of you, are there particular sections of your piece you hope the audience’s attention is drawn to during the performance?
KA: If I can ask one thing I just want people to give themselves up and to open themselves to a new experience. It’s a generous piece in that wants to give. It’s short, it’s fast, it’s lush and overwhelming in some sense, and it wants to give. So I’d appreciate if people can open themselves to that, because I like to show that the world can be experienced in many different ways.
CR: Sounds like a great piece! Returning to the subject of community, how do you personally engage with your community through music?
KA: I’m a teacher, and have taught in all kinds of settings. The most involved I was with my community was through participating in New Haven’s Music in School’s program for two years, I liked that program because while it still very much engages with the classical tradition it’s opened to being inclusive in many different ways. It’s a free program and it shows that there are community building possibilities through music. Music is inherently a social activity, and it doesn’t matter to me if I’m working with a four year old who’s just starting music, or a much more experienced person than I. As long as we’re all respectful and trying to learn from each other, that to me plays a huge role in what it means to build a community and be engaged in building an open minded community. It’s up to us to communicate and show the value of getting through certain difficulties that emerge in life, and we can do that through making music.
CR: Great point. Speaking more to you, if you had to choose, what’s your all time favorite piece of literature or poetry?
KA: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is a work that’s unsurpassed for me. It’s hard to pick one because I like a myriad of things. I could as easily go with Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game but that was because I read it at a very particular time in my life, so it partially has a point of nostalgia for me. The Little Prince was always a story I connected with as well. Many friends of mine used to call me that because I’m always a little too jolly for any given situation *laughter*
CR: Outside of reading, do you have any other hobbies?
KA: I’m really passionate about teaching, and at this point, music is 100% of what I do. I did hike a lot this summer, so I can say I enjoy doing a lot of hiking, but during the school year there’s very little time for that. I love to travel, but again, I’ve gotten into travel because of work.
CR: Do you have a favorite quote or a mantra?
KA: It doesn’t make any sense by itself, but it’s “and flowers showered”. The original story from the Blue Cliff Record goes:
as Subhuti was sitting in silent meditation in a
cliffside cave, the gods showered down flowers to praise him.
The venerable Subhuti said, "Flowers are showering down
from the sky in praise; whose doing is this?" A god said, "I am
Indra, king of the gods." Venerable Subhuti asked, "Why are
you offering praise?" Indra said, "I esteem the Venerable One's
skill in expounding the transcendence of wisdom." Subhuti
said, "I have never spoken a single word about wisdom; why
are you offering praise?" Indra said, "You have never spoken
and I have never heard. No speaking, no hearing-this is true
wisdom." And again he caused the earth to tremble, and showered
For me it has always been about becoming nobody, letting go of the things that I know and believe, and being constantly “in the making”; the story tells us that losing oneself is the true bliss. Being-no-one is where the common/shared space is found, and that’s where flowers are showering, always have been showering, and always will be showering. Because the trees, and the forests, and the flowers already know what it is to be nobody; only humans have to learn to undo the infinite constructs of our personalities. Only then one can truly become somebody.
CR: Beautiful! Are you going to be able to come to the premiere of the piece?
KA: Yes! I love talking to people and I’m very excited to be in LA, so please come talk to me before and after the concert! I’ve never even been to California before, so I’m excited to see the Disney Hall for the first time and have my work performed there!
CR: Oh wow, you’ll be in for a special treat then! Krists, thank you so much for talking to us about your piece and about you!
KA: Thank you! Your openness in talking is appreciated!
Carrie Rexroat is a freelance writer for Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s blog, but is also the founder of the storytelling blog and podcast, A’tudes & Brews. To read other artist stories, go to www.atudesandbrews.org
Kaleidoscope will give the World Premiere of Snippets of Joy on:
Saturday November 18th @ 10pm
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
Sunday November 19th @ 2pm
First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401